Nigeria: Flying Under The Radar
While the main focus of the war on terror has remained focused on hotbeds like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the events taking place in Nigeria may turn out to warrant increased attention. For the better part of this year, the Nigerian government and its lucrative oil economy have come under increased attacks by local terrorist organizations that are bent on expelling foreign oil companies out of the region. Now, it appears that the United States is finally starting to get the picture that the current situation in Nigeria is fragile.
The Houston Chronicle has reported that the United States consulate in Lagos, Nigeria issued a warning to all American citizens to be aware of the possibility of terrorist attacks within the country.
Militants in Nigeria are planning a major new wave of attacks and kidnappings in the next few days that could include up to 20 bombings across the country’s oil-rich delta region, U.S. diplomats warned Friday. “The U.S. government has learned that as of late October 2006, a militant Niger Delta group may have finalized its plans for a unified attack against oil facilities in the Niger Delta region,” the statement said. “The attacks allegedly will be carried out sometime during the first week of November and will include 10 to 20 simultaneous bombings of land-based targets and a series of separate attacks on oil installations in which expatriate workers will be taken hostage.”
While the warning did not specify who would be behind the attacks, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has emerged as the foremost terrorist threat in Nigeria and will most likely be the culprit of these attacks. According to a backgrounder on the group, MEND’s ultimate goal is to expel foreign oil companies and non-indigenous Nigerians from the Delta region, which is primarily made up of members of the Ijaw tribe. Their main grievance is that the local population continues to live in poverty while the government and foreign oil companies seize all the wealth from the region.
There are two main implications that arise from this threat of increased violence on Nigeria’s oil facilities. First and foremost, US oil interests are at stake. Nigeria is the fifth largest provider of crude oil to the United States and is the world’s eighth largest oil exporter. However, the MEND has been responsible for successfully cutting Nigeria’s oil exports by at least 20 percent this year alone. If MEND increases its attacks, it may very well setback Nigeria’s oil exports even further; no doubt taking a toll on gas prices in the United States.
One other possibility stemming from this increased threat of violence is the potential for a goal-oriented alignment between MEND and Islamic terrorist groups abroad. This is not to say that radical Muslim groups will recruit members from MEND or vice versa. Instead, MEND may provide inspiration to radical Islamic groups who are witnessing their successes. Damaging America’s economy via targeting the oil industry has long been one of al-Qaeda’s missions. If MEND continues to be successful in targeting and hurting Nigeria’s oil economy, it is entirely possible that future successful attacks may give rise to other plots perpetrated by terrorist organizations across the globe.
If these threats of increased violence in Nigeria are undertaken, this week could turn out to be a sobering wake-up call for the United States. In trying to protect our interests abroad, specifically our economic interests, the United States may be compelled to turn more attention to Nigeria. In reality though, regardless of whether these attacks are perpetrated, it is important that the United States recognize the emerging threat posed by MEND.